Thursday, December 16, 2010

All or Nothing (Mike Leigh) - 2002

Naked will always remain my favorite Mike Leigh film. It's a gritty, existential film experiment. When experiencing Naked, it doesn't take much to realize the film as film. While Leigh is famous for his ability to make films feel real to life and documentary-esque, there will always be something about Naked which makes me understand I am watching a philosophical statement. Because I can see Naked this way, I don't view it as the depressing film many might see. Instead, I would say All or Nothing is Leigh's most depressing, devastating film. Also, I will go so far as to say it is about as great a film as Naked.

All or Nothing is a film that follows three different families living in a working class housing community. As with most of Leigh's films, the themes of love, alcoholism, money, and emotional honesty are key to the films 'plot.' Much of what has been experienced in Leigh's previous films is coming to a head in All or Nothing. Leigh has, in fact, perfected the themes and the actors. As Leigh does not start his films with a script, but allows for the actors to work through, talk through, act through ideas and dialogues that will form the script, All or Nothing feels extremely honest and raw. No two characters are exactly the same.

The two saddest figures in the film may be the most heartbreaking vision of alcoholism to be filmed. The wife spends her entire days drinking. She barely moves from the couch except to go to liquor store. She doesn't work. She doesn't cook for the family. She rarely eats. Her daughter, played by a young Sally Hawkins (Happy Go Lucky), is stuck watching as her mother just wastes away. And in Hawkins face you see her fear of following this path. The husband works, occasionally, as a taxi driver. A scene towards the films final third shows the two embraced on the edge of their bed. Unable to speak or barely move. Holding close to one another in the grimmest portrayal of despair and lust.

Ruth Sheen (High Hopes), always magnificent in a Leigh film, plays the co-worker to the films central character, Penny (Lesley Manville, Grown-Ups). Sheen has a teenage daughter who recently discovered she is knocked up by a low life who is borderline abusive. Sheen sees her daughter going down the same path she took in her youth. Sheen is loving and honest with her daughter. They are the most hopeful of all the characters in the film.

But, All or Nothing is not about these people as much as it is about Phil (Timothy Spall) and Penny (Manville), and their two children. Spall is incredible in this film. His role in Life is Sweet is mostly comical. He is pretty great in Secrets and Lies. But, in All or Nothing he puts his entire being into the character of a man so stuck in thought and dreams of achieving more. I relate so much with this character's silence. His need for the occasional shutting down and walking away for a few hours. We can all relate. But, Spall makes us feel this so deeply.

Manville plays Penny. A very quiet, insecure woman. The common law partner to Phil, she has never felt fully wanted. Not by her husband. Not by her children. She spends her days working. And her evenings cooking, cleaning. Her son screams obscenities at her. Her daughter is one of the most closed off teenage characters in film history. Penny lives a very destroyed life. The pain is all over Manville's face.

Towards the end of the film, Penny screams at Phil that life isn't about dreams. It's about just getting by. It's about the day to day. This sums up the reality of life. The theme of the film. Perhaps, this is a very existential film by way of Naked. Maybe, it's just painfully honest. Either way, All or Nothing is one of the most incredible experiences and views of a lived life.


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